The Talking Band in
Painted Snake in a Painted Chair

January 16th - February 2nd, 2002
Wednesday - Sunday 8:00pm
Sunday 2:30pm
First Floor Theatre

written & composed: Ellen Maddow
director: Paul Zimet
scenic design: Nic Ularu
lighting design: Carol Mullins
costume design: Kiki Smith
choreographer: Karinne Keithley
keyboards: "Blue" Gene Tyranny
stage manager: Terry Dale
with: Diane Beckett*, Gary Brownlee*, Randolph Curtis Rand*, Steven Rattazzi*, Tina Shepard*, Louise Smith
*appear courtesy of actors equity

New York Times Review

PAINTED SNAKE IN A PAINTED CHAIR is a story of five long-time friends, whose unexpected friendship is as solid and intense as a family’s. The character’s stories unfold in a manner that induces the sensation of reading a novel: one savors the discovery of seemingly disparate events until they are ultimately linked together. The house where they meet also functions as a character in the play. When they gather there they feel hyper-real and larger-than-life. On the evening in which the play is set, they gather to expel a swarm of bees that have moved into the attic. As a result, the house reveals some of its mysterious secrets. Music amplifies the heightened sense of meaning the friends have when they are together. It pours forth suddenly from unexpected places: when someone lifts the lid of a pot of soup, switches on a lamp, or sinks down onto a sofa, drenching the atmosphere with mystery, hunger, fear or beauty.

Paul Zimet, artistic director of The Talking Band, will direct PAINTED SNAKE IN A PAINTED CHAIR with designers Nic Ularu (set), Carol Mullins (lights), Kiki Smith (costumes), choreographer Karinne Keithley and featuring Diane Beckett, Gary Brownlee, Randolph Curtis Rand, Steven Rattazzi, Tina Shepard, Louise Smith and "Blue" Gene Tyranny on keyboards.

The Talking Band’s unique use of music as an equal voice in the narrative is essential to their productions, where song, rhythms and melodies are not forms of accompaniment, but are an integral part of the storytelling. This is a company that collaborates with musicians, actors and poets to create productions of rich, energetic language and musical expressions.

Since 1974, The Talking Band has produced over 30 productions – the popular Betty Suffer series, written and composed by Ellen Maddow, Obie and Bessie Award winning plays, and recently, the critically acclaimed Bitterroot. and Star Messengers. Ellen Maddow is a founding member of The Talking Band, and has composed for and performed in most of its works. Ellen received the 1999 Frederick Loewe Award in Musical Theater (along with librettist Paul Zimet).

Her work has received Meet the Composer grants, ASCAP Special Awards, a Villager Music Composition Award, a Village Voice OBIE, and a 1996 McKnight National Playwrighting Fellowship. For more information on The Talking Band, log onto

This Production is made possible with the public funds from The New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts. It is also made possible with additional support from The American Theatre Wing.

Funding from Meet the Composer, Inc. is provided with the support of the New York Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, ASCAP, the Virgil Thompson Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Talking Band website

January 22, 2003

Memories That Stop to Visit for a While and Then Drift Away

Four friends gather in an old house infested with bees that drop from the ceiling and walls in the Talking Band's "Painted Snake in a Painted Chair," playing at La MaMa through Feb. 2. They are not the only pests in these people's lives; there are mice, ants, cows, doves, pets that leave droppings around, even a secret snake — or is that slitherer just a sleep-walking ghost of a python called Cher?

Emblems, all, of what bedevil these humans: memories that are all life leaves us but that come and go at will. The structure of the play, written and composed by Ellen Maddow and directed by Paul Zimet, is profoundly musical. Characters often break into songs you want to join, and occasionally into sophisticated musical nonsense, as when their separate recollections of a country outing spiral into a cantata of moos, coos and hiccups that comes back to you in memory hours later as an exquisite reprise of songs preceding it.

Even the dialogue is shaped like music. It sounds like cutting, fast New York street talk, but you soon realize that all the characters are talking mostly to themselves and they are getting not replies, but variations on themes. And every movement is choreographed in countable dance time, from chases to hand-holding in a sink full of dishes to gravity-defying lapses into rigid ecstasy.

As usual, Talking Band collects a superbly disciplined and experienced cast. The characters are some of the funniest people you are likely to meet this year. But you feel a loneliness in them that tugs at you. Through much of the story two people exist only in memory: one who died young and another driven away by the four friends as, well, a pest. But both come back in the end, the first as a spirit brought to life by the affection of the others and the second brazenly alive, to remind the four of what they did to him. At this point the play cuts so close to real life that it may make you a bit uncomfortable.

The actor who creates what is perhaps everyone's favorite character gets no biography in the playbill: a rabbit called Bernard who is a key to the plot's final resolution. In fact the conduct of this actor, a real rabbit, is so decorous that Bernard throws a revealing light on the near lunacy of all the other characters. The audience noisily adores him.

2003 page